The protests in the Taiwanese Legislative Yuan (covered earlier by The Diplomat’s reporter on the scene, J. Michael Cole) are continuing, with students occupying the building itself and up to 10,000 protesters surrounding the LY from the outside. Since the protest began, the students have issued an official statement outlining their opposition to the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement. The statement insisted that the students’ stance against the pact was not a case of “always being against anything related to China.” Instead, they based their opposition on the economic impact of the agreement. “In the future, Taiwanese small and medium-sized enterprises will face challenges from competition with Chinese-invested companies that have abundant capital and use vertically integrated business models,” the statement read. “The entrepreneurship haven that we used to be proud of will be gradually taken over by foreign corporations.” In addition, the students “strongly protest” the tactics used by the KMT to try and push the bill through. The statement accused Ma Ying-jeou of “seizing the legislature to have it approve the service pact in such a violent way and giving away the nation’s future.”
The students also issued an ultimatum, calling for Ma respond to their demands by noon on Friday. That deadline has passed, with no change in the situation evident. Although one protest leader, Huang Yu-feng, promised to “take further action,” as of this writing it was unclear what the protesters would do next. Meanwhile, legislative speaker Wang Jyn-ping has promised to respond to the students’ demands. Wang has also indicated that he is not considering using the police to forcibly remove the protesters, saying that the students’ safety is the top concern. “For now, I am only thinking of the students’ safety and am not considering having them removed by force,” he told reporters.
In other China-related news, during the ongoing session of the UN Human Rights Council, China made headlines by publicly disavowing a UN-commissioned report on North Korea’s human rights abuses. However, the UNHRC session also put China in the spotlight for more familiar reasons: Western concerns over China’s own human rights record. Reuters reported on U.S. and EU criticisms of China for arresting and harassing human rights activists, including Xu Zhiyong and Ilham Tohti. Western officials also expressed concern over the death of Cao Shunli, a Chinese dissident, last week.
In response, Xinhua quoted Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei’s rebuttal. “China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to the mistaken remarks made by the governments and institutions of the U.S. and Europe on the death of Cao Shunli,” Hong said. He added that Cao “received conscientious and proactive treatment during her illness and her legal rights were ensured.” More generally, Xinhua added that China is ruled by law, and all Chinese citizens “must strictly abide by the obligations state in the Constitution and law while enjoying the rights granted by the Constitution and law.” Hong urged “relevant countries” to stop “using the name of human rights to interfere in China’s judicial sovereignty and independence.”
Meanwhile, the situation in the Ukraine continues to draw widespread media attention in China (and around the world). China’s official response has been covered by The Diplomat, but Chinese netizens provide an alternate perspective on the Crimea referendum. ChinaSmack reports that recently netizens have been comparing Russia’s role in the Crimea referendum with another historical precedent: the Russian-backed referendum that resulted in Mongolia being an independent nation rather than a part of China. Given such history, some netizens argued, the only patriotic thing to do is oppose Russia’s attempt to separate Crimea from Ukraine.
Finally, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama arrived in China Thursday, and met with Xi Jinping’s wife Peng Liyuan today. In a sign of the deep-seated geopolitical ramifications, the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time blog analyzed the “fashion face-off” between the two high-profile women. In all seriousness, however, Peng Liyuan (famous in her own right as a folk singer) has redefined the role of China’s First Lady. Hu Jintao’s wife was rarely seen in public, much less appearing in the spotlight. By contrast, Peng travels with her husband and has attained status as a Chinese fashion icon. It’s another sign that Xi Jinping aspires to be a different sort of Chinese politician—a charismatic, popular leader rather than a mere font of Party rhetoric.
By the way, in case you were curious, South China Morning Post made sure to describe the two ladies’ outfits. Michelle Obama “dressed casually in a black asymmetric waistcoat, shirt and black wide-legged trousers by American fashion designer Phillip Lim,” while Peng “sported a more formal look, wearing a belted navy blue jacket and skirt, a pair of high-heeled lace-up shoes, and carrying a red clutch bag.”